This was one of Herald Lifestyle's most read articles in 2019.

In the photos from Princess Eugenie's October wedding last year, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, beams. Wearing a green silk suit, the mother of the bride smiled and waved, as she and the royal family gathered to celebrate the 10th in line to the throne's wedding to tequila ambassador Jack Brooksbank.

However, one particular photo from that day stands out. Superficially, it might look like a stiff family portrait, but the official portrait of the wedding party, showing the Duchess standing only centimetres away from her former father-in-law Prince Philip, is momentous.

It is an image that 20 years ago would have been as unthinkable as the Queen posing in a bikini by the River Dee during her summer holiday.


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Rewind to the late '90s and Fergie had thoroughly cemented her pariah status after a decade of headline-grabbing gaffes and indiscretions.

Having her divorce from Prince Andrew finalised in 1996, the mum-of-two was attempting to dig herself out of financial woe by appearing in Weight Watchers ads and spruiking Wedgewood tea cups with glee abandon.

While she might have retained her title after officially exiting the Windsor family, the vestiges of Fergie's royal life were long gone. No more summers stomping across the moors with the Queen, who had once adored the rambunctious redhead. No more carriage driving with Phillip, a passion they both shared. Fergie was persona non grata behind palace gates, resolutely shunned.

However, complicating the situation hugely was the fact her daughters were not. While privately the Yorks were a close bunch, regularly holidaying together and fronting up to school sports days en masse, they were a family divided.

Christmas still meant Sandringham for Andrew and the York girls with all the Germanic holiday trappings the royal family enjoys. Meanwhile, Fergie was sequestered away in a house away from the estate, each morning sending Beatrice and Eugenie off to spend time with their titled relatives while she was left on her own.

By 2000, Beatrice and Eugenie had reached 12 and 10 respectively and had noticed the iciness if not outright hate their beloved mother faced at the hands of their father's family.

Fergie revealed the devastating truth in a 2000 interview when George Wayne from Vanity Fair asked the then 40-year-old about the sensitive subject. Wayne bluntly inquired: "Has it reached the point at all where Beatrice will look at you and say, 'Mummy, why does Grandpa hate you so much?'"


Fergie pulled no punches revealing the heartbreaking reality. "Oh, yes," the Duchess admitted. "I don't know if she's ever used the word 'hate'. But I think they both want to know why I am excluded from the royal family and family engagements."

Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, Fergie.
Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, Fergie.

No matter what you think of the hapless royal's behaviour over the years — the toe sucking, the debts, her raucous approach to Windsor life — this scene is heartbreaking. A mother having to find a way to explain to her daughters why their beloved grandparents and extended family so disliked the mum they loved so much.

Fergie's interview goes on to outline, with her signature candour, how she makes sense of her exile from the royal family to her daughters: "I have to explain to them, 'That's just the way it is, and you know what your mummy is like. And you know she has been misrepresented. But that's the way they have chosen to be. But you know, I am slightly different, don't you think, girls?' And the girls say, 'Well, Mummy, you're such fun'. And I say, 'Well, you've got to learn in life that not everybody can like your fun'. Which I learnt at 40 and which they can learn at nine."

It's a politic answer, a deft piece of verbal jiu jitsu. While it might have cheerfully mollified a child, to an adult the searing rejection is blatantly apparent.

While the Duke and Duchess of York might now be the absolute picture of conscious uncoupling executed to sheer perfection, reading Fergie's comments from nearly two decades ago paints a poignant picture of what childhood for Beatrice and Eugenie must have been like: Having to endure uncomfortable conversations and trying to comprehend the schism that had split their family.

Sarah, Duchess of York and Diana, Princess of Wales at the Epsom Derby, 3rd June 1987.
Sarah, Duchess of York and Diana, Princess of Wales at the Epsom Derby, 3rd June 1987.

These days they are held up as paragons of young royalty (society bible Tatler recently crowned Beatrice "Queen Bea" and dubbed her the most popular royal) — they both gamely plug away at charity work while holding down paying jobs. They have managed to arrive into adulthood as smart, interesting modern women and without having racked up any real scandals, a hideous fascinator notwithstanding.

While no date has been set for Beatrice's marriage to Italian/English entrepreneur Edoado Mapelli Mozzi, and it is rumoured the big day will be far less grand Eugenie's wedding, there is one thing that we know for sure. Fergie will be there, grinning for Britain. And the family who once excluded her and relegated her to social Siberia will, to varying degrees, happily stand by the Duchess' side.

Twenty years on, the smiles are real but it is up for debate if the hurt of those childhood conversations is gone.